Summary "Great at Work" Morten T. Hansen

Many of us believe that working hard and putting in long hours day after day is the key to success. Morten Hansen was one of these people after graduating.

He worked 60 – 90 hours per week for several years, neglecting his personal life and health. That was until he discovered his teammate Nathalie had better results and never worked after 6 p.m. or on weekends.

Despite Hansen's experience, the overworked, stressed-out, high-achiever paradigm remains a popular movie stereotype. These people put their concerns aside for the sake of business. Hansen's research, on the other hand, demonstrates that great results can be achieved without working ridiculous hours. It's possible to achieve work-life balance while doing so!

In 2011, Hansen launched a comprehensive, extensive, and wide-ranging study to discover the secrets of great performance. He published his results in the book Great at Work: How Top Performers Do Less, Work Better, and Achieve More. Here, he explains how top performers differ from regular performers in that they engage in seven work-smart practices.

In this article, you will find a summary of this book, teaching you how you can apply these seven practices in your life.

Work-smart practice number 1: Work Scope Practice


 “Select a tiny set of priorities and make huge efforts in those chosen areas.”

Hansen’s team discovered that selectivity is a key characteristic of top performers. While most productivity experts recommend prioritizing, Hansen takes it a step further. He advises that if you want to succeed, you must carefully consider which activities are worthwhile.

Top performers follow the principle of "do less, then obsess." They are very selective about their objectives, ideas, and collaborations. They commit to producing high-quality work once they have decided to take on a particular project.

According to Hansen, picking a few priorities is only half the equation. The other half is the harsh requirement that you must obsess over your chosen area of focus to excel.


Work-smart practice number 2: Targeting

“Focus on creating value, not just reaching preset goals.”

Hansen tells us about the importance of redesigning your work to redesigning for value. Fruitful redesigns don't just add less hours of work. Instead, they change how you work to produce more value.

The typical method for measuring value depends on how many goals and tasks you complete. In this context, "value" refers to how much other people benefit from our work.

Here are some examples of how to add value instead of mindless goals.


Source: Great At Work, Morten T. Hansen

Also, Hansen mentions five ways to create value:

  • Less fluff: get rid of activities of little value;
  • More right stuff: increase activities of high value;
  • More “Gee, whiz”: create new activities of this latter kind;
  • Five-star rating: improve quality;
  • Faster, cheaper: do some activities more efficiently.

Work-smart practice number 3: Quality learning

“Eschew mindless repetition in favor of better skills practice.”

Morten Hansen has also questioned the widespread belief that mastering a skill requires 10,000 hours of practice. That rule seems to be true for true experts in her field (the best soccer player, chess player, et cetera). But that's not what top performers do. Applying the "learning loop" is the best way to get smarter as you work. Ask for regular feedback on your work and use it to improve your processes. It is this immediate feedback, and its immediate application of it, that ensures that you learn very quickly. 

Never stop learning while you work! Even if you have to do the same tasks every day, find new ways to do them. This is the principle of "quality learning": keep improving your skills and avoid mindless repetition. Strive for optimization and efficiency, or rather increase your effectiveness. 


Work-smart practice number 4: Inner motivation


“Seek roles that match your passion with a strong sense of purpose.”

The author confirms that people who are passionate about their jobs are more likely to perform better. It confirms a popular belief that you can only achieve greatness by doing what you love.

However, mere fascination isn't enough. Only those who use the "P-squared approach" and combine passion with purpose succeed.

This practice is what Hansen calls "achieving P-squared," or "matching passion and purpose". Passion refers to a sense of excitement and enthusiasm about work, while purpose refers to making valuable, meaningful contributions to others.

Matching passion and purpose provides people with more energy than they channel into their work. It is not just about "more hours" but "more energy" per hour of work.

However, this line of thinking is not new. It has existed for a while within the Japanese concept of Ikigai, which we believe is a better model for personal development.

Hansen mentions a few ways we can expand your passions and sense of purpose:

  1. Discovering new roles within your current jobs.
  2. Find passion from different sources (passion can come from success, creativity, social interactions, learning, and competence).
  3. Climb the "purpose pyramid": find ways to add more value, and pursue personally meaningful activities and activities that have a clear social mission


Work-smart practice number 5: Advocacy

“Shrewdly deploy influence tactics to gain the support of others.”

The “work-hard” convention tells us that we should spend a lot of time and energy explaining the merits of our case. That leads us to massive efforts to communicate and overcome obstacles. 

Hansen demonstrates that the best performers are also “forceful champions”, those who inspire others and apply smart grit.

Forceful champions inspire others in one of these three ways:

  1. They make them excited about tomorrow and angry about today
  2. They make people feel purpose, connecting daily tedious work to a grander purpose
  3. Forceful champions display smart grit to break down the opposition and garner support for their projects


Work-smart practice number 6: Rigorous teamwork

“Cut back on wasteful team meetings, and make sure that the ones you do attend spark vigorous debate.”

Debates are a great boost for team meetings.  People must feel free to express themselves. 

Confrontation is necessary for the most innovative ideas to emerge and sound decisions to be made. Debating requires different points of view, so bringing together people from diverse backgrounds and mindsets will yield the best results.

You must also ask specific questions to allow your teammates to freely express themselves.   Rather than asking, "Do we have any new ideas?," ask: "How can we improve this service?". 

Regardless of disagreements, the team must work together. Ensure that each team member is committed to carrying out the decision-making process and respecting the team leader's decisions.

Work-smart practice number 7: Disciplined collaboration

“Carefully pick which cross-unit projects to get involved in, and say no to less productive ones.”

Collaboration is considered efficient, and we frequently believe that the more, the better. 

Top performers, on the other hand, collaborate less, not more. They will only collaborate if it benefits their projects and those of their potential partners. They save time and energy for more productive activities than they otherwise would.

According to experts, organizations should eliminate silos, build networks, and use a variety of high-tech communication tools.

What Hansen teaches us is that over-collaboration is as bad as under-collaboration. Busting silos is not the answer. Instead, we need a different answer. Disciplined collaboration helps you collaborate effectively and perform.

What if you need to work with a group? How do you run meetings to get the most out of them? Before scheduling a meeting, top performers advise that you carefully consider whether it is truly necessary. If so, use the "fight and unite" approach to ensure that time spent together provides the most value.


In his epilogue, Hansen concludes by saying that anyone can become a top performer. Following this method, he believes we can achieve work-life balance, become more productive, and live a happier life.

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